You’ll see this dish all over Bangkok’s Chinatown, where it is made with large prawns and cooked in metal pots that can withstand the constant and heated demands of the lines of hungry customers. I find the dark, crunchy part of the noodles that sticks to the bottom of the pot is the best part.
- 100 g dried glass noodles, about 2 small bundles (see Note)
- 1–2 coriander roots, cleaned
- 1–2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 10 white peppercorns
- 2–3 thin slices ginger
- 4 spring onions (scallions), green ends trimmed
- pinch of coriander seed
- pinch of ground star anise
- pinch of five-spice powder
- 2 tbsp rendered pork fat (see Note)
- 3–4 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp Chinese wine
- good pinch of white sugar
- 6–8 large raw prawns, about 400–500 g in total
- coriander leaves, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time 20-30 minutes
Soak the noodles in warm water for about 20-30 minutes or until soft. Drain well and, using kitchen scissors, cut into manageable lengths about 10 cm long.
Pound the coriander roots, garlic and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle until a paste forms. Transfer the paste to a bowl, then add all the remaining ingredients except the prawns and coriander leaf. Combine well, then set aside to marinate for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to about 200°C. Warm a claypot or ovenproof saucepan in the oven for 10 minutes.
Rinse the prawns, then cut down the back and remove the vein. Carefully take the hot pot out of the oven. Place half the noodles in the base of the pot, followed by the prawns, then the remainder of the noodles. Cover with the lid and return to the oven for about 15 minutes or just until the prawns are cooked through. Remove the lid and stir the noodles. Don’t worry if the noodles have stuck to the pot – these crunchy, charred bits are the best part. The finished dish should be quite dry and, of course, the prawns should be red, cooked and tempting. Serve sprinkled with coriander.
• Traditionally this dish is made in an earthenware pot, mor din in Thai. These can be found in most Asian supermarkets where they might also be called claypots or sandpots. Before using, you must soak it in water overnight to reduce the chance of it shattering when it sits on the heat. To be on the safe side, heat the pot up in the oven, fill it up on the bench, then return it to the oven to cook. If you don’t have a claypot, a heavy-based ovenproof saucepan with a well-fitting lid will do nicely.
• You can shell the prawns completely or leave just their tails attached, but on the streets, they are usually left whole with only the whiskers and legs trimmed and the dark vein removed. How you deal with the prawns is up to you. Often you’ll find pieces of mud crab in the pot – a happy alternative.
• Dried vermicelli noodles are easy to find in any Asian food shop. They are also known as bean thread, cellophane or glass noodles. Under whichever guise you fine them, they should be soaked until somewhat soft, then cut into long strands to make them easier to eat once cooked.
• I know the idea of pork fat in any dish may disturb a few people but it lends a rich and suave smoothness to the dish. Try it, it really is very good. However, if you would rather not, you can use a tablespoon or two of oil in its place.
• Chinese rice wine can be found in most Asian shops and some supermarkets, however you can use sherry or even a sneaky dram of scotch if you must.